Last month, Port City Brewing Company's brewer and yeast wrangler Abbey Temoshchuk got a piece of good news: she'd been awarded an Oregon State University Beer Quality & Analysis Series scholarship from the Pink Boots Society. The scholarship will help Abbey "enhance her microbiology education" according to the selection committee. This, in turn, will enrich her knowledge of quality assurance and control (QA/QC) and ultimately help Port City to brew even better beer.
Abbey, like so many other beer fans, started out as a homebrewer. She describes to the Pink Boots Society how, during her first homebrew, she "felt this emotion that simultaneously satisfied both my creativity and my type-A nature. It was a feeling I had only experienced one time before – in the laboratory.”
Abbey has a background in the hard sciences and was using her Masters in Biohazardous Threat Agents & Emerging Infectious Diseases in a government position. But once the homebrew bug (no pun) took hold, she started educating herself in beer and scaling up her homebrew batches. She came to PCBC as a part-time server and then jumped full-time into her current brewer role when the opportunity arose.
The OSU Beer Quality and Analysis Series "teaches the fundamentals of basic beer analysis and microbiological techniques and their roles in the brewing process based on the official ASBC Methods of Analysis used in QA/QC labs worldwide, providing attendees the knowledge and tools to analyze and evaluate beer to influence quality control in a production brewing setting," according to the Pink Boots Society.
We had the chance to ask Abbey about her work and her scholarship via email. (Apologies to her for the long delay between her responses and this post). What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
DCBeer: What does it mean to you personally and professionally to win this scholarship? What new skills and knowledge will this unlock, and which questions have you been asking that you hope it will answer?
Abigal Temoshchuk: This scholarship to me is, as cliché as it sounds, a wonderful honor and opportunity. To have been chosen by a panel of my peers to attend this course means a great deal, and I look forward to doing Pink Boots some justice while class is in session. As someone with a science background who is fairly new to the industry, I’m hoping this course will allow me to gain more topical knowledge that will allow me to apply the concepts I already know more effectively in the brewery.
There's a serious lack of female brewers in the industry, which is a shame. To what do you attribute that fact, and are you hopeful that future generations of industry professionals will correct that imbalance? What kinds of steps do you think would make brewing a more attractive, or welcoming, profession to women?
I hear a lot about how small the number of women in the brewing industry, and, it’s true, we’re definitely a minority. That being said, I think there’s a lot more of us that you’d expect. At the Pink Boots meeting at CBC this year, they told us that they’ve had 150 new members a month for the past two years. That’s a lot of women. In the DMV Pink Boots Chapter alone, we’ve got 117 members (and counting)! The fact is that, back in the day, women were the brewers. Somewhere along the way that changed for a number of societal reasons and just kind of became the norm, but I think the industry is starting to see a shift back in the female direction – or at least, an equal direction. The fact of the matter is, there’s a ton of beer-loving women out there, and more and more of them are figuring out that this passion makes a great career. In a male-dominated industry, I think the biggest reservation is a fear of “isolation,” but with an organization like Pink Boots providing a community for women in beer to find each other, and, honestly, an acceptance from the men as an equal in the first place, that “isolation” doesn’t really exist.
PCBC is a very well-decorated brewery. To what extent do you attribute good QA/QC processes to that success? Are there steps at every stage of the brewing process that contribute to good QA/QC?
Port City has been about quality, first and foremost, since day one, and I do think that a large amount of our achievement as a brewery is attributable to that mindset. It’s like the saying goes: it’s easy to make a good beer, but it’s hard to make a good beer twice. That’s what QA/QC is all about. Every single practice in our brewery, from mashing in all the way down to packaging, is directly or indirectly related to quality control, and it was designed that way. Having that attitude from the very beginning has made it easier for us to develop a more formal QA/QC program than it could have been, and we’re very fortunate that our leadership set it up for us like that. We’re more than honored to have received those awards, and our goal now is to make sure those beers maintain that award-winning quality.
For a small brewery like PCBC, what are the biggest struggles on the QA/QC front? Do you think enough small breweries pay attention to these processes, or do they fall by the wayside?
For small breweries, the hardest part about establishing a QA/QC program, like many other things, is finding the resources. When you’re small, it can be difficult to dedicate finite means, especially personnel, to a quality program, particularly because you might not see the effects as quickly as you would by hiring more brewers or adding new tanks, for example. But the thing about a quality program is that if you don’t have one and something goes wrong, it’s going to hurt a lot more, and I think that’s what worries me most about small breweries today. There are so many quality checks that require minimal time and money but can save you down the line. Thankfully, and perhaps evidenced by the number of talks at CBC this year, there’s been this new kind of resurgence in quality. With 4,000 some odd craft breweries in the US now, a quality program is going to be what sets you apart from the masses. I think pretty soon we’re going to see priorities shift, and QA/QC will come out near the top.
What's your favorite PCBC beer, currently? (Please don't say all of them. Pick favorites. Everyone knows parents have favorite children.) Any favorite non-PCBC local or non-local breweries or beers that you often look toward?
Even if parents do have favorites, they’re not supposed to tell anyone! But, if I had to pick, my go-to is definitely the Porter. It sits perfectly in the middle of that porter spectrum – roasty with just a little sweetness – that reminds me of high percentage cacao bars. Plus, our English Ale yeast is a total champion that gives it the perfect clean finish.
As far as other breweries, I have a lot of respect for places that focus on classic styles and balance, because it takes a lot more craft and focus to do that correctly. Sierra Nevada has always been a huge inspiration for me, as well as Allagash. That being said, I’m also a sucker for a good Lacto or Pedio beer – just keep your equipment separate! ☺
Tell us a little bit more about the "Pay It Forward" requirement of the scholarship.
The “Pay it Forward” portion is a way for me to say thank you to Pink Boots. Basically, it involves sharing the knowledge from this course with my fellow members in the Society, as a way to encourage professional development and learning amongst our community. Whether that be in the form of an article, a presentation at a conference, or something else, remains to be seen!
What advice would you give to those interested in getting involved in the brewing industry? Similarly, what advice would you give to professionals in the STEM field who are weighing a jump to the brewing industry?
Whatever your background is, my advice to those looking towards the brewing industry is the same: you just have to go for it! Be willing to start from the bottom and work your way up. I think a lot of places follow this model because it allows them to get a sense of your work ethic and shows them how dedicated you really are to the craft. Read and learn as much as you can about brewing and beer science, and ask questions, always! And to those with a STEM background thinking about it – be honest, where else will you have this much fun?
Thanks to Abbey for making the time to chat with us and for her insightful answers! Many congratulations to her for her accomplishments and award. Lift a pint to her and everyone else out there ensuring you're getting the best beer possible. Cheers!